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How to Soldered Glass Art Jewelry
Soldered Glass Jewelry, Combining Two Passions, Watercolor and Jewelry Making
In this tutorial I'll be explaining how I make soldered art glass jewelry, because I can't keep a secret. Well, at least when it comes to how I make my jewelry. I've learned so much from other people about how they create their pieces, that I want to help others in their jewelry making journey. Also, when people find out my monetary investment as well as the work that goes into each piece, I think they gain a better understanding and appreciation for handmade items.
Being a watercolor artist for 20 years, and now a jewelry designer for 10 years, I've come up with a way to wear my watercolor paintings as jewelry. I've combined my passion for watercolor painting with my passion for jewelry making. After painting and signing my miniature artwork, I create a frame using glass and solder. Let me show you what I've done.
All photos by Gayle Dowell
First Get the Right Tools
Any art medium or craft takes practice. Learning to control and master a craft takes time. Using the right tools and quality materials gives better results while practicing, keeping frustration to a minimum. My first advice is to find a good quality soldering iron that allows temperature control. Buying different sized soldering tips allow work on different sized pieces. For jewelry I use a small tip, 1/8 inch. I use the Weller 100 watt soldering iron.
Purchasing a thermostat keeps the soldering iron at a constant temperature. A good heavy soldering stand is a must for safety. I have one that includes a sponge to keep my soldering iron tip clean. A third hand or some type of large clip are good for holding my piece while I solder as it keeps my hands from getting burned from the iron or the work as it heats up.
You will need a 100 watt soldering iron. This one has a stand included and is a reasonable price with good reviews.
Next Gather Up Some Basic Supplies
Besides tools that will last, supplies will be needed for creating the piece. Glass tiles, jewelry grade lead-free solder, adhesive backed copper tape, gel soldering flux, steel wool, solder polish, an old paint brush, and a bone folder are just some of the basic supplies that are needed besides the artwork that will be placed between the glass.
Glass tiles can be found in all shapes and sizes, beveled or not beveled, and colored or clear.
It's important to calculate the thickness of the piece with the art and the two pieces of glass before purchasing copper tape as the tape comes in different thicknesses depending on the thickness of the piece. Silver back copper tape is good to use if the piece is transparent and the back can be seen through the art. It is best to match the adhesive side of the tape color with the resulting color of your solder. If the piece will be darkened with chemicals, use the black backed tape. For my work any copper tape will work as I fill the whole glass area with my art and the back cannot be seen through the piece. For a more decorative look, wavy copper tape is available.
Using a gel flux is recommended as liquid flux can leak under the adhesive to your art between the glass.
There are different types of solder, be sure to use lead-free solder if making jewelry. I use Canfield Silvergleem. It produces a high shine and contains a good amount of sterling silver. It melts at 430°F and has instant freeze which lets the artist sculpt designs with the solder. I've also used Canfield - DGS which is a less expensive alternative, but is still lead-free, contains some silver and is easy to use.
Glass Tiles for Soldered Art
Rectangular pendants are popular. These rectangle memory glass tiles are a great size for pendants for necklaces.
An assortment of copper tapes in different widths to accommodate different glass thicknesses for different projects. You need to measure your two pieces of glass with your art inserted between. Use a tape thickness that will give you about 1/8" extra overlap on both sides, or a total of 1/4" extra.
Amazon carries many different widths of copper foil tapes for all thicknesses of work. Be sure to check them out.
Flux and Other Supplies
Lead free solder is best for jewelry. I use the Silvergleem because of the higher silver content over other solders.
Flux helps the metal solder to adhere to the copper tape more readily.
Resources for Soldered Art
Learning how to solder is easy if you have the right resources to learn. The following book and video are the resources I used to learn how to do this project.
This is the book that I used in learning how to do this type of project . Several great projects using not only glass tiles but other glass surfaces.
Great how-to videos that I used to learn the techniques of soldering.
Practice First to Perfection
The above video will help you learn how to use the soldering iron and how to put together the piece for soldering. After watching the video and gaining information on the process of soldering, it would be good to practice soldering skills before starting on a masterpiece! There is a definite learning curve. Stay relaxed and apply the solder with a light, controlled and consistent touch. Use a thin layer of solder and build up from there. After soldering use steel wool and polish to bring out a nice shine.
Strength of Faith
Go the Next Step and Add Embellishments
After soldering, embellishments can be added. I use craft wire and shape it into a bail using round nose pliers. I use metal embellishments that are premade and also make my own from wire. Embellishments add a nice touch and make each piece even more unique.
Silver Metal Embellishments and Wire
A collection of assorted embellishments will inspire creativity. Keeping these on hand is always a good idea to generate new ideas. If you do not have or can't find silver-toned embellishments to use, I have used brass and copper metal embellishments and coated the metal with gel flux and a thin coat of solder to match the soldered edges of my glass art.
I've used non-silver embellishments and coated the metal with a thin coating of solder after a coating of gel flux. Works well for simple designs.